Thursday, July 7, 2011

On Teleology

I am trying to grasp the concept of teleology from an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view. The following quotes from David Oderberg's Teleology: Inorganic and Organic define it clearly:

"The idea that all objects have a natural tendency to some kind of motion or behaviour characteristic of their essence."

"the idea of a characteristic tendency towards a certain kind of operation of behaviour, and resistance to other kinds of behaviour or causes contrary to the thing's nature."

I also found this abstract, which attempts a definition:

"the Humean world is one in which all the elements are loose and separate, “just one little thing and then another”, and in which any causal and lawful relations are to be discovered as patterns of regularity. In contrast, theories that hark back to Aristotle emphasize a more connected world. Things can have powers or dispositions towards certain outcomes as an essential part of their natures. Indeed, things can be classified as what they are according to the powerful natures they have."

There is also this lovely paper that precisely identifies the distinction between Aristotelian-Thomistic final causality and Humean causality:

"according to the Aristotelian conception, causes are conceived as the active originators of a change that is brought about for the sake of some end."

"the Aristotelian-scholastic conception, according to which causes are the active initiators of a change, and the scientific conception, according to which causes are the inactive nodes in a law-like implication chain."

"According to I, 'A is the cause of B' means 'A is the initiator of a change in B'; according to II, 'A is the cause of B' means 'Given the occurrence of B, A must necessarily have occurred.'"

Monday, February 21, 2011

Updated Desert-Island Book List

This is the list of books that I will be focusing on in my spare time:

- Summa Theologica
- Bible
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church
- Dialogues of St. Catherine
- Introduction to the Devout Life

If I had more leisure time, I would also read:

- Jane Austen
- Shakespeare
- Aristotle: Selections
- Dante's Divine Comedy
- The New Penguin Book of English Verse

Sunday, February 6, 2011

An Ultracompact Abridgement of "Holy Teaching: Introducing the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas"

Below is an extreme abridgment of Frederick Bauerschmidt's Holy Teaching: Introducing the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, a Kreeft-like book of heavily annotated selections from the Summa, in his own flowing translation. A sentence has been selected from each of its 43 chapters. Interested readers are referred to Bauerschmidt's original 320-page work.

In order that the salvation of human beings might be brought about more fittingly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. The existence of God can be proved in five ways. God is his own existence, and not merely his own essence. And sometimes perceptible things, or even voices, are divinely formed to express some divine meaning, as in the baptism [of Christ], the Holy Spirit was seen in the shape of a dove, and the voice of the Father was heard: "This is my beloved Son" (Matthew 3:17).

Besides the procession of the Word there is posited another procession in God, which is the procession of love. The word "person" signifies the essence directly and the relation indirectly, since the essence is the same as they hypostasis. It is impossible to arrive at knowledge of the Trinity by natural reason. The Son proceeds by the way of the intellect as Word, and the Holy Spirit by way of the will as Love.

The human intellect will have its perfection through union with God as with that object in which alone perfect human happiness consists. The perfect condition of the body is required for happiness that is in every way perfect, and this is the case both as a condition for and as a result of happiness. Human beings are capable of seeing God, and perfect human happiness consists in this vision.

In order that human beings may know without any doubt what they should do and what they should avoid, it was necessary for them to be directed in their proper acts by a law given by God, for it is certain that such a law cannot be in error. In the state of corrupted nature one needs grace for two reasons: in order to be healed and, beyond this, in order to carry out works of supernatural virtue, which are meritorious.

Since grace has been revealed, both the great ones and the lowly are required to have explicit faith in the mysteries of Christ, particularly those that the whole church celebrates and publicly proclaims, such as the articles that refer to the incarnation. The proper and principal object of hope is eternal happiness. With regard to filial fear, just as it grows as charity grows, so too is it perfected when charity is made perfect. Charity is the friendship of human beings toward God.

Unless Christ was God, he would not have brought a remedy; and unless he was human, he would not have set an example. Since the Word has united a human nature to himself—which does not, however, belong to his divine nature—it follows that the union took place in the person of the Word, and not in the nature. Christ is fittingly called the head of the church. It must be said that in Christ there was acquired knowledge, which is truly knowledge in a human fashion. The word "human" may be truly and properly predicated of the word "God," on the ground that it stands for the person of the Son of God. Because in Christ there are two natures and one hypostasis, it follows that things belonging to the nature in Christ must be two, and that those belonging to the hypostasis in Christ must be only one.

It was fitting that Christ should give people confidence in approaching him by associating familiarly with them. If Christ had committed his teaching to writing, people would have thought his teaching as no more profound than what appears on the surface of the writing. Through his suffering human beings know how much God loves them, and are thereby stirred to love him in return, which is the perfection of human salvation. Since Christ's soul did not fend off the injury inflicted on his body, but rather willed his bodily nature to succumb to such injury, he is said to have "laid down his life," or to have died voluntarily. By suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race. In dying, he endured evil things that he might deliver us from evil, so he was glorified in rising again in order to advance us toward good things. And there must be a final judgment at the last day, in which everything concerning every human being in every respect shall be fully and openly judged.

Through the institution of the sacraments human beings, in a way consistent with their nature, are instructed through perceptible things. The sacraments of the New Law cause grace, for they are instituted by God to be employed for the purpose of conferring grace. By means of the sacraments, the faithful receive a certain spiritual seal. It is fitting that there should be seven sacraments; for spiritual life has a certain resemblance to the life of the body. The sacrament of baptism does not occur in the water itself, but in applying the water to a human being, that is, in the washing. It became necessary to baptize children, so that, as in birth they incurred damnation through Adam, in a second birth they might obtain salvation through Christ.

The presence of Christ's true body and blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist cannot be detected by the senses but only by faith, which rests on divine authority. It sometimes happens that someone is hindered from receiving the effect of this sacrament, and such reception is an imperfect one. By this sacrament we are made partakers of the fruit of our Lord's suffering.

Bauerschmidt on Davies

In Holy Teaching (Bauerschmidt's Kreeft-like book of heavily annotated selections from the Summa, in his own translation), the author has this to say about Davies’ The Thought of Thomas Aquinas:
This book offers a clear and, on the whole, accurate overview of Thomas’s work, as well as explanations of Thomas’s positions on key questions. The book generally follows the pattern of the Summa theologiae, though it tends to focus on questions more of interest to philosophers than to theologians (e.g., over half of it is devoted to the first part of the Summa). Davies, however, by no means ignores theology. For students, this is probably the most useful one-volume companion to Aquinas’s thought as a whole, not least because Davies provides examples for Thomas’s arguments, something Thomas himself habitually fails to do.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

An Ultracompact Abridgement of "The Thought of Thomas Aquinas"

Below is an extreme abridgment of Brian Davies's acclaimed work, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas. A sentence has been selected from each of its 17 chapters. Interested readers are referred to Davies's lucid 376-page work.

Aquinas is not content simply to say that God is; he wants to explore the divine in as many ways as possible. Creation by God (the act of creating) is the making of something from nothing. And whatever God is, he is not dependent on anything for his existence. Further, what we say of God can be literally true, though the full reality signified by our words defies our comprehension.

God does not creatively will evil – all he wills is good; and he can only be said to will evil in the sense of permitting it, not in the sense of causing it directly. Aquinas believes that God is causally at work in the entire history of his created order, that he is absent from nothing, and that everything that happens is an expression of his will. The one God exists undivided as the simple source of all created perfection and existence.

Aquinas' philosophical case for ascribing will to God rests on his view of God's knowledge or understanding; and he develops it by drawing on the conclusion that God is wholly immutable. Providence governs all, but everything does not happen in accordance with natural necessity, and we need to allow for human freedom; yet even human freedom falls within the scope of providence since God works in everything.

For Aquinas, the heart of Christian teaching is the doctrine of the Trinity, which is the first specifically Christian topic he turns to in the Summa theologiae. We are embodied souls; and one of the things this means for him is that we have emotions or, as he calls them, passiones animae. Nothing short of God can satisfy people completely. Aquinas' position is that the Trinity makes us divine since God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, brings us to the final or ultimate good or end of rational creatures, which is nothing less than God himself. Aquinas asserts that the theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity; these, he says, are the means by which we come to God by grace as opposed to nature.

In his Christology, Aquinas conceives of Christ as the definitive means by which creatures who have come from God return to their source. Christ was both a priest and a victim, and his work bore the character of sacrifice. By means of the sacraments, we live in Christ and he lives in us.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kreeft vs. McDermott

In "A Shorter Summa", Peter Kreeft puts down Timothy McDermott's "Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation": "The Summa would lose much of its clarity and digestibility if it were homogenized into continuous, running prose, like watery stew. (A current British translation has done just that.)"

However, in the same introduction, Kreeft does praise W. Norris Clarke as being "the most Aquinas-like mind I know of all men living". Yet Clarke has nothing but praise for McDermott's translation: "The teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas is presented in continuously flowing paragraphs with appropriate chapter headings, much more like the style of modern philosophers since Descartes...The real meat of St. Thomas Aquinas has been captured here with remarkable good judgment, and it is in fact a fresh and stimulating experience to read Aquinas' doctrine on a given point gathered all together."


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Plan for Aquinas

Here's my current thinking on how I will approach Aquinas.

First I will study Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation. This will take me 2-3 years. It's quite a bit of time, but it's time well spent.

After that, I will probably study Brian Davies's exposition of Aquinas – The Thought of Thomas Aquinas – to correct misconceptions I have about Aquinas' thought.

From there, I might go on to studying Aquinas: Selected Philosophical Writings. Or I may go back to the Summa, in its unabridged form, in a recent translation, e.g., the Hackett Aquinas series.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Core Philosophical/Theological Reading

  1. Aristotle: The Desire to Understand
  2. Aquinas: Selected Philosophical Writings
  3. Bible - RSV 2nd Catholic Ed.
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church
1 gives me a basis for the structure of reality. 2 broadens it to a Catholic understanding. 3 is Dei Verbum. 4 is a synthesis put forward by the Church.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Agony of Aquinas in Translation

I have been enjoying Jonathan Lear's "Aristotle: The Desire to Understand" so much more than when I was attempting to read Aristotle's original texts in translation, that I think I shall do the same with Aquinas; that is, reading Brian Davies's "The Thought of Thomas Aquinas" instead of Aquinas' original writings.

Why should I spend a decade reading the Summa Theologica, once through, with little understanding, when I can read Davies's work and gain immediate understanding, within a few months? I will not be able to say, "I read Aquinas." However, I will be able to understand his ideas and start contemplating them. With this goal in mind, reading Davies's work seems to be a reasonable approach.

And I can always go to the primary sources afterwards. Once I finish reading Lear and Davies, a logical next step would be Irwin and Fine's "Aristotle: Selections" and McDermott's "Summa Theologica: A Concise Translation".

It's the ideas that are important to me – to be able to take these great ideas and consider how to apply them to life. My goal is not to be an Aquinas/Aristotle scholar – to be one would need a vast quantity of time which I do not have.

Monday, January 10, 2011

How I Learn

By examples (inductive learning).

By drawing pictures (visual learning).

By discussing with others the ideas being studied.

By reading aloud.

By summarizing.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pathway to Aquinas

This is the series of books that I am using to understand Aquinas' thought.

  • Aristotle for Everybody (Adler)
  • Shorter Summa (Kreeft)
  • How to Read Aquinas (McDermott)
  • Aristotle: The Desire to Understand (Lear)
  • Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation (McDermott)
  • Aquinas: Selected Philosophical Writings (McDermott)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Books I don't have time to read (but wish I did)

  • Lourdes (Benson)
  • Song of Bernadette (DVD)
  • Speaking Clearly (Hahner)
  • Aristotle: Selections (Irwin and Fine)
  • Aquinas: Selections (McInerny)
  • Aristotle (Shields)
  • Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Kreeft and Tacelli)
  • After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism (Kerr)
  • Aeneid (transl. Fitzgerald)
  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry (3rd ed.)
  • Jane Austen: The Complete Novels
  • The Complete Works of Shakespeare (ed. Bevington)
  • The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Davies)
  • The One and the Many (Clarke)
  • The Degrees of Knowledge (Maritain)
  • Plato: Complete Works
  • Analysis Patterns (Fowler)
  • Enterprise Integration Patterns (Hohpe and Woolf)
  • St. Dominic (Dorcy)
  • Life of St. Dominic (Jarrett)
  • Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (Di Lorenzo and Ventresca)
  • Introduction to Philosophy (Sullivan)
  • The Unity of Philosophical Experience (Gilson)
  • The Light of the World (Pope Benedict XVI)
  • The Lord (Guardini)
  • I Walked With Heroes (Romulo)
  • Aquinas (Feser)
  • God at the Ritz (Albacete)
  • Programming Pearls (Bentley)
  • Compilers (Aho)
  • The Art of Computer Programming, vol. 3: Sorting and Searching (Knuth)
  • The City of God Against the Pagans (transl. Dyson)
  • Small Is Beautiful (Schumacher)
  • Catherine of Siena (Undset)
  • The Imitation of Christ
  • The Cloud of Unknowing
  • The Spiritual Combat

Friday, December 31, 2010

Currently listening to: Bach Arrangements by Angela Hewitt

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Books recently finished:
  • Introduction to Philosophy (Maritain)
  • The Divine Comedy
  • Aristotle for Everybody
Current Projects and Books:
  • Learning Latin
  • Learning to be an altar server at the Traditional Latin Mass; reading The General Principles of Ceremonies of the Roman Rite, for Inferior Ministers
  • Reading Data Structures and Algorithms in Java
  • Studying Aquinas and Aristotle; reading A Shorter Summa
  • Reading Essential System Administration
  • Reading the Bible
  • Reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Reading The Interior Castle (St. Teresa of Avila)
  • Member of Communion & Liberation; reading The Religious Sense and A Generative Thought
  • Reading Introduction to the Devout Life
  • Reading Don Quixote